I didn’t really like the story of Snow White growing up, particularly Disney’s famed portrayal of the narrative. Not that the story wasn’t, I don’t know, compelling, or anything. But the dwarves freaked me out, even if they did sing catchy songs about going to work, and Snow White herself seemed like a really weak protagonist. (Yes, I had these thoughts as a five-year-old.)
But, now that I’m older, I figured I’d give the “real” Snow White a shot. So, this weekend, one of my girlfriends and I went to go see Snow White and the Huntsman. I very much enjoyed the film, despite it being my first exposure to Kristen Stewart’s “acting” skills and the obvious fact that the story is much darker than Disney has ever led any of us to believe. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the real story of Snow White, sans Dopey, here’s the way it breaks down in a nutshell. (Oh, and yeah, don’t read if you don’t want to hear spoilers. I guess.)
A pretty girl is born to a king and a queen. They name her Snow White. The queen dies suddenly from some illness which sucks. Some crazy sorceress lady who is unhealthily obsessed with an enchanted talking mirror (and also has some weird, creepy relationship with her brother) shows up and seduces the king. He marries her the next day, obvs. She then kills the king because, again, she’s legit cray cray. She locks Snow White in a tower because Snow White is, according to this talking mirror, the prettiest girl in all the land and she, Queen of the Cray, just can’t handle that. Snow White escapes and gets stuck in some horrible dark forest that screws with your brain a la a bad bath salts trip. (Relevant.) Queen Cray hires a very sexy, yet brooding and mysterious, huntsman to go find Snow White with the promise of bringing his dead wife back, even though she’s clearly not powerful enough to do that because HELLO THAT’S RIDICULOUS. Anyway, Hunky Huntsman goes and immediately finds Snow White face down in bath salt mud in the forest as if girlfriend was attached to some Snow White GPS monitoring system. She convinces him to help her escape Queen Cray instead of taking her to him. Even though he’s very distraught over the recent passing of his wife, he falls in love with her instantly because she’s gorgeous (natch) and agrees to help get her to safety. Meanwhile, Queen Cray imprisons all of the young girls in the land and sucks the life/beauty/youth out of them to remain young and beautiful while they age and die. It’s kind of Harry Potter/Dementor-ish, actually. Blah blah blah, there are some fairies and dwarves and craziness, and then Snow White is tricked by Queen Cray (who shows up in the form of Snow White’s childhood love interest) into eating a poisoned apple that “kills” her. But she’s actually not dead! She’s just under a spell that can only be broken by “true love’s kiss”! But no one talks about it! So when Snow White’s childhood love interest finds her all dead-looking, he kisses her sadly. But she doesn’t revive. GASP! Later on, though, Hunky Huntsman lays one on her that evidently does the trick. Snow White wakes up like she was just napping or something and then they go and fight Queen Cray and eventually kill her. Then Snow White takes her rightful place on the throne. The end!
Phew. Got all that? Okay. Much different than Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, right? And I’m not just talking about the lack of high-pitched singing.
So, let’s point out the most twisted flaw about this story (which, granted, was written approximately a billion years ago).
The main conflict of the story is that a girl is prettier than her stepmom (and I guess everyone else in the land, too) and the stepmom is just NOT OKAY WITH THIS. So much so, that she’s willing to kill any and everyone standing in her way of being the “fairest of them all”. (Side note: I’ve had fair skin my whole life and I’m still waiting for paleness to be in fashion. What gives?)
So. What can we learn from this?
Let’s say that Snow White represents us: you, me, women. Just by being born, just by existing, we are all “fairest” of the land. We are all beautiful, fearfully and wonderfully made, exactly the way we are, right? Well, not until some overbearing ruler (societal beauty standards) steps in with some stupid magic mirror (Photoshop, perhaps? The media in general? The diet industry? All of the above?) and vows to destroy us by any means necessary in order to communicate what is truly “fairest” in all the land.
The cool thing about this story, when viewed through this metaphor, is that — spoiler alert — Snow White is the only one who can defeat the Queen. They are tied together due to some spell and/or curse. Therefore, Snow White is the “chosen” one, if you will, that must drive the sword through the Queen in order for her to actually die and allow for Snow White to rightfully reign.
I think the same holds true for us. Because we are women born into this society, we have been “cursed” since birth to be abused by a beauty-obsessed world. However! We are the ones who hold the power to destroy its influence in our lives and regain rule over our self esteems. By looking in our own mirrors and seeing ourselves the way we were meant to be seen, beautiful inside and out, we are doing the same thing Snow White does to the Queen at the end. We stare Queen Cray, and everything about her that makes us feel bad about ourselves, in the face and say, “No! You are a liar! You are evil! I’M the fairest of them all!” And, in doing so, swiftly drive a sword right through her.
Only then can we regain our rightful place on the throne of our lives.
2 thoughts on “snow white and the twisted self-image.”
“Queen Cray” love it, good writing.
NPR did a story a while back when the trailer first came out sort of about this. They were commenting on the interesting societal relationship between our transition from making movies with the Cinderella concept to makeing a bunch of movies with the Snow White concept. They asked if the prevalence of the “cougar” in modern pop culture is trending us towards stories about conflict between mother and daughter over sexual conquest. Their point was that youthfull appearance and behaviour is being maintained longer in life than before and this denial of age is presenting us with the classic drama of Snow White in clubs and bars. What was the domain of the young is being invaded by the old who refuse the trappings of age.